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Rookie Rundown: What to Wear to a Western Horse Show

western horse show rider

This article is part of our “Rookies Horsing Around” series, guest authored by Emily and Sarah Harris of Sisters Horsing Around.

From the boots to the bling, this guide will make sure your outfit is blue ribbon ready.

Western shows, you can’t help but love them. Flashy, exciting, fun, and down to earth, these types of shows are family friendly and are sure to have something for everyone. At Western shows it is not uncommon to see the competitors dressed to the nines with their horses groomed to perfection, or looking like they have ridden right out of a western novel ready to round up some cattle and hit the range. What is so cool about the Western style of riding is that it can be as sophisticated as English riding or as casual as a leisurely trail ride. Also another great aspect for Western show attire is that you are not limited on the colors you can wear.

Coordinating a show outfit for a western show is easy, you can either be dressed casually, conservative, elaborate, or blingy. And let us just add that if you love fashion, western shows are the place to let it shine. So we want to share with you what you need to wear to your first western show, so that can avoid those wardrobe blunders and still look your best.

First and foremost, before we continue we want to let you know that before you make a final decision on your show outfit, you need to consult the show’s rules for attire. You can also check the leading Western organizations like American Quarter Horse Association, National Reining Horse Association, Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, etc., to learn more about Western attire.

Also, most Western shows consist of classes of different disciplines in Western riding instead of having a completely different show for each discipline as in English riding. So depending on the show, you will have the opportunity to ride in multiple disciplines all within one show, and that means that you may have to change your attire depending on the classes you enter.

Read on to learn exactly how to dress for different types of Western shows!

Local western shows

This type of western horse shows are pretty laid back and lax. They are fun, competitive, and friendly. There are classes for everyone, including for the little ones. These shows are the perfect shows to get your feet wet and get you started into showing horses.

But despite how relaxed the shows can be, there are still some things that you need to make sure you get right when preparing your outfit.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt
  • Neck scarf (optional)
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots
  • Chaps or chinks

For your local western shows, you do not have to go full on extravagant if you don’t want to. A button up shirt of any color, solid or patterned would do perfectly fine with a pair of jeans. Any color jeans are also fine but dark wash looks better and more professional. Add a belt that matches your boots, and boom. You’ve got yourself a western outfit.

Chaps or chinks can be worn, but are not required, so is the neck scarf or wild rag. These two items are not really necessary for this type of show, but if you want to wear them, go right ahead.

local western show

Toss on a long-sleeve shirt (and a helmet), and you’d be good to go for a local schooling show! (Source: Sisters Horsing Around)

Please do not wear a t-shirt in the show ring, t-shirts are fine for the warm up ring but are not considered appropriate for showing even if it is a small local show.

Also, DO NOT wear a short sleeve button up shirt in the show ring.

Short sleeve button up shirts are considered prohibited attire for any western discipline and should not be considered an option. If you are trying to get an outfit for a guy, then their outfit will follow the same guidelines as above.

ariat long sleeve shirt

Click to see Ariat western shirts at Amazon

Showmanship classes

Showmanship classes are done completely off of the horse. You lead your horse through a pattern—obedience, movement, and proper execution of the pattern are extremely important. But what is also important is your presentation.

Judges can easily get fatigued while judging this class, they have to watch person after person complete this pattern and if you don’t make a favorable impression you could easily get overlooked. Confidence goes a long way, as does presence of mind and body, so make sure that you present yourself in a way that is memorable.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid color)
  • Slinky top
  • Vest (optional)
  • Show jacket (optional)
  • Bootcut show pants
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

Photo Credit: Erin Brown

These shows require a neat and polished appearance so that you can show a well matched pair for horse and person. A solid colored button up shirt of any color worn with a fitted vest of a well coordinated color will look very nice. If you want to get fancy, then an embellished show jacket or slinky top will look beautiful.

western horse show outfit

With a bit of planning, your outfit can make you—and your horse—look like winners! (Source: Sisters Horsing Around)

Pair it with either a dark or matching colored pair of bootcut show pants, add a belt and some boots that either match or compliment your outfit. If you are a male trying to coordinate an outfit then a solid colored button up shirt with dark or black jeans or suit pants would suffice.

If you want to go the extra mile, then a nice suit with a color coordinated button up shirt will be perfect. Then for the finishing touch for either male or female is a matching or neutral colored cowboy hat.

Western pleasure shows

Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t. The girls with all the make-up, fancy jewelry and gorgeous outfits. The well dressed guys and cool cowboy hats, what more can we say? Western pleasure shows are basically beauty pageants, so bling is not a problem.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid color)
  • Slinky top
  • Vest (optional)
  • Short jacket (optional)
  • Chaps
  • Bootcut show pants
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

With western pleasure shows you can either wear a helmet or cowboy hat. Cowboy hats are more common, but you will not be penalized if you decide to go with a helmet. Make sure that the color either is neutral or matches your outfit. Any solid colored button up shirt with dark jeans make a great choice, especially if you are on a budget.

If you want to give it your own unique flare, then add an embellished vest in a contrasting color. Or you could do a slinky top or western show jacket with a matching pair of bootcut show pants for an absolutely stunning look. For either outfit, you will need to add a belt with a buckle and some western boots.

Chaps are optional, but if worn, then the equitation chaps of the same color are considered appropriate. For guys, a proper outfit would be a solid button up shirt with a tied neck scarf, jeans, and shotgun chaps. And of course, a belt with buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat or helmet.

Western Horsemanship classes

Western horsemanship is the western version of equitation. In these classes, the rider is judged and not the horse. So that means you must be on your best behavior and look your best. As in Western Pleasure, you will want to dress up a bit more.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Slinky top
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid color)
  • Vest (optional)
  • Show jacket (optional)
  • Neck scarf or wild rag
  • Chaps
  • Bootcut show pants
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

A solid colored button up shirt of any color worn with an embellished fitted vest will dress up any plain shirt. If you want to get even fancier, then an embellished show jacket or slinky top will look just as pretty. Pair it with either a dark or matching colored pair of bootcut show pants, add a belt and some boots that either match or compliment your outfit.

If you are a male trying to coordinate an outfit, then a solid colored button up shirt with dark or black jeans is good. Then for the finishing touch for either male or female is a matching or neutral colored cowboy hat.

As for the guys, it is the same as western pleasure. A proper outfit would be a solid button up shirt with a tied neck scarf, jeans, shotgun chaps, and of course, a belt with buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat or helmet.

Competitive Trail classes

This class is an obstacle class. The obstacles are placed in a pattern that is definitely technical and thought provoking. You must be careful and precise when executing the pattern so that you don’t incur any penalties so that you can gain more points.

Don’t let the meticulousness of this class deter you, Competitive Trail is very interesting.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Slinky top
  • Long sleeve button up shirt
  • Vest (optional)
  • Show jacket (optional)
  • Neck scarf or wild rag
  • Chaps
  • Bootcut show pants
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

With Competitive trail, it all depends on the level of prestige that will determine the attire you should wear, the higher the rank of the show the more dressed up you will need to be, the lower the rank the more options you will have as to going either casual or elaborate. At the lower ranked shows you can wear a solid colored button up shirt either alone or paired with a vest. Dark jeans or pants, with a belt will do wonderfully well.

But at the higher ranked shows, you will need to wear either a slinky top or show jacket with a pair of matching or dark contrasting pants. Chaps are acceptable at any level, but the appropriate chaps are the equitation show chaps because they are not bulky and give a nice sleek appearance.

Then top it all off with a matching cowboy hat or helmet (our preference!).

Guys have a little more options for their outfit in Trail. They can wear a solid or subtly patterned button up shirt with a tied neck scarf, jeans, and shotgun chaps. If you want to change the look up a bit a nice vest will do satisfactorily. And of course, don’t forget a belt with buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat or helmet.

online horse courses

Western/Cowboy Dressage

Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage are very similar, but despite their similarities they are two different disciplines. The tests are different, the arena is set up differently, but the attire is the same.

wild rag scarf

Click to see wild rags at Amazon

The goal of these disciplines is to mesh together the art of dressage with the lifestyle and movement of the western cowboy and horse.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid color)
  • Slinky top (plain or embellished)
  • Vest (optional)
  • Short jacket (optional)
  • Wild rag or neck scarf
  • Chaps or chinks
  • Bootcut show pants
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

With Western or Cowboy Dressage, the attire is very similar. You can either go neat and simple, or elaborate and flashy. If you want to go simple, then a button up shirt, pair of jeans, belt, boots, and cowboy hat would suffice. If you want to add a little more umph to your outfit, add a vest, chaps or chinks, and a neck scarf or wild rag.

But if you totally want to go the glam route then a slinky top or show jacket, a pair of bootcut pants, belt, boots and a cowboy hat will certainly do the trick. If you want to wear some chaps, then the equitation chaps are the best for the job because they match the polished and neat appearance of the rest of your outfit.

Reining shows

This discipline is a popular western discipline. Horses sliding to a stop, dirt kicked up, riders looking poised and calm amidst such a sudden change in movement. You’ve probably seen a picture of it and wondered how they get the horse to do that? In this discipline, the rider and horse must complete an invisible pattern, executing the elements with precision.

Reining is lots of fun, and it requires a lot of concentration. Thankfully when it comes to attire, this discipline is one of those types that can go either as simple or elaborate as you please, so putting together an outfit will be no trouble at all.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid or patterned)
  • Slinky top (plain or embellished)
  • Vest (optional)
  • Short jacket (optional)
  • Wild rag or neck scarf
  • Chaps or chinks
  • Bootcut show pants or slacks
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots

For entry-level reining, the only requirement for attire is that riders wear a long sleeve shirt, hat (or helmet), boots, and use a western saddle and bridle. The attire is generally not as detailed as in western pleasure but if you want to go for some sparkle and a little bit of bling you can do so. If you want to go simple, then a button up shirt, pair of jeans, belt, boots, and cowboy hat would do. You can add a vest, a neck scarf or wild rag, some chaps or chinks if you want to complete the look.

But if you totally want to go all glitter and sparkles, then a slinky top or show jacket, a pair of bootcut pants or slacks, belt, boots and a cowboy hat will look amazing.

If you want to add some chaps to this outfit, the equitation chaps are the best ones for the job and look more polished. If you are outfitting a guy, a solid or tastefully patterned button shirt with some jeans or slacks, a vest if you so choose, chaps or chinks, a neck scarf, belt with buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat is the way to go. Because Reining attire can be either plain or elaborate, guys have more color and pattern options when it comes to their outfit for this event.

Ranch Riding

There is nothing fancy about this discipline. The rider is neatly dressed and ready for work, the horse is equally groomed and ready for work on the range. With this discipline the focus is not on how well you all look, but rather on being able to demonstrate your ability as if you are working on a ranch. So you will not see any fancy clothes, nor any extra accessories to complete a well turned out appearance.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (solid color)
  • Vest (optional)
  • Wild rag or neck scarf
  • Chaps or chinks
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Western boots (cowboy or cowgirl)

For this discipline, everything is held strictly in accordance in reflecting the lifestyle of the working cowboy. That means the tack will have no saddle silver, nothing will be fancy or extremely embellished. The attire will reflect that of a cowboy or cowgirl ready to work on the range and ranch.

You don’t want to wear anything that will be a distraction from a well completed, well executed pattern.

A cowboy hat is more commonly worn in these classes, but a helmet is okay to be worn. The color doesn’t matter, it just needs to match your outfit. Any solid colored button up shirt will do. Long sleeves are more commonly worn. As for jeans, medium wash, dark wash jeans are better and look more polished. If you think a pair of light wash or black jeans will match a particular outfit better, then go ahead and use them. You want your jeans to compliment your top, not stick out like a sore thumb.

Do not forget to add a belt that goes well with your outfit; you don’t want anything too glaring. Chap or chinks are fine just as long as they are more on the simple and classic side, anything exotic will not be considered appropriate. Want to add more character to your outfit, then add a vest, neck scarf or wild rag in a contrasting color.

Then finish it off with a pair of western boots. Do not wear them with the shafts on the outside, this will draw unnecessary attention and is not considered proper.

For the guys, their outfit will follow the same guidelines as above.

Timed Speed Events

Timed Speed events can include Rodeo shows and Gymkhanas, which are loads of fun.. Crowds cheering, the announcer calling out loud over the speaker, rodeo clowns, country music, and good old family entertainment are some of the things you will see. Even if you are not a horse person, rodeo shows can still give you a thrill without having to even participate.

The timed speed events encompass multiple disciplines, such as Barrel racing, pole bending, steer wrestling, calf roping, calf undecorating, saddle bronc, and bareback bronc are just some of the disciplines you will see or have the opportunity to compete in. So, what you wear to these competitions will be okay for all of the classes.

  • A certified helmet (cowboy hats are allowed, but we always recommend a helmet!)
  • Long sleeve button up shirt (plain or patterned)
  • Neck scarf or Wild rag (optional)
  • Jeans
  • Belt with buckle
  • Cowboy boots
  • Chaps or chinks

These classes and shows are very relaxed as far as attire goes. The focus of these events is to complete the pattern or task with the fastest time. You can use either a cowboy hat or helmet for these, any color is totally fine. Any colored solid or patterned button up shirt with any colored pair of jeans. Chaps or chinks are fine but are optional.

Western boots, either short shafts or tall shafts will work. Match the color of your belt with your boots. A neck scarf or wild rag is optional and the color or pattern is all left up to your choice. For guys, their outfit will follow the same guidelines as above.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do Western riders wear helmets?

They do indeed. There are plenty of Western riders who have made the switch from hat to helmet. But there are still a lot of riders who choose to stick to their cowboy hat. The cowboy hat is very deeply ingrained into the lives and history of cowboys and cowgirls, that many feel a deep attachment to this piece of attire.

Thankfully, there is an alternative. The Resistol cowboy hat helmet is both a cowboy hat and a helmet so that you can stay safe and carry the cowboy tradition with you.

cowboy hat helmet

Click to see cowboy hat helmets at Amazon

Are jeans OK for horse riding?

They sure are. Jeans are certainly fine and actually one of the most common articles of clothing that are worn extensively by riders in shows and in everyday riding. In horse shows, they are most commonly worn at local shows or in show classes that simulate life out on the ranch like: ranch riding, reining, cattle sorting, etc.

What should I bring to a horse show?

Aside from the obvious items of tack, outfit and the other essentials, you want to make sure that you are well prepared and organized when you first arrive at the show. Having a copy of the show rules is a very good thing to bring with you just in case you have some doubts on anything.

A garment bag is always good especially with keeping your outfits neat and clean. Always bring a tack cleaning kit just in case you have to clean something up if it gets dirty. Rags and baby wipes are your friends.. Always have them on hand in case of outfit, personal, or horse emergencies.

A mane and tail brush is good to have right before you go into the ring to give your horse’s tail a final touch up to make it look full and airy. Some classes allow you to add a fake tail to your horse’s tail to thicken it up. A fake tail is not required for all western classes, but for some classes (western pleasure, horsemanship, showmanship, trail, etc), it helps to complete the polished look of horse and rider.

Parting Thoughts

We hope that this has given you an idea of what to do for your western show outfit. Western shows are pretty straight-forward when it comes to choosing an outfit, you are not restricted on colors or patterns at all, so the possibilities are endless.

Try to pick colors that go well with the color of your horse, when in doubt you can use the Hobby Horse Color Wheel to make it easier to pick colors that will compliment your horse.

Also make sure to match your saddle blanket or pad with your outfit so that you present a well coordinated look and picture. You don’t want to pair a saddle blanket with your outfit that ends up clashing. You want your overall look to be tastefully put together, not a hodge-podge of colors. You want to make a good impression, to stand out in a good way and not in a bad way.

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About the author

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Sisters Horsing Around

Emily and Sarah are the sister duo from the equestrian YouTube channel “Sisters Horsing Around.”

They have loved horses for as long as either of them can remember. They are first-generation horse people who have had to learn the ropes of the equestrian world by themselves. Because they understand the difficulties of navigating the horse world, they want to share the equine experience with others in a digestible way. Their desire is to reach non-equestrians and rookie riders, introduce them to the fascinating beauty and joy of horses, and give them the tools they need to enjoy their own horse journey.

Check out their videos at youtube.com/sistershorsingaround.